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Taking it slow

pedestrians walking on sidewalkLong-term recovery calls for intentional choices, not short cuts

After going through treatment for alcoholism, David James* could have returned to a high-powered sales career in the hospitality industry. Instead, for now, he is working part-time at a supermarket.

“I haven’t earned so little since I was in college,” the 51-year-old laughed. “But money’s not everything. I’d rather be around for the next 30 or 40 years. I’m taking the advice of my therapists and taking it slow.”

Taking time to focus on his recovery has helped him reach 16 months of sobriety so far. He has returned several times as an alumni speaker at Oxford Treatment Center, where his own recovery began.

James completed 30 days at the residential campus and two months in the center’s sober living and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), followed by an extended sober living stay. It was not his first time in treatment.

“I tried the traditional 28-day stay. Tried going to the hospital. Tried faith-based programs,” he said. “Every time I would go to treatment, I couldn’t wait to get out. I’d go straight back to work, and would quickly lose focus on what I needed to be doing — working on my addiction and my issues.”

It was always the same thing. Within two or three weeks, I was drinking again.

James’s experience echoes what research is revealing about how length-of-stay in treatment affects outcomes in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse points to three months as a minimum treatment term for people to “significantly reduce or stop their drug use,” with the best outcomes occurring with even longer durations of treatment. The NIDA also recommends a continuing-care approach, “with the treatment intensity varying according to a person’s changing needs.”

Oxford Treatment Center’s programs and facilities are designed to meet people where they are with the appropriate level of care. At each level, the treatment team works with individuals and families to plan for next steps that can best lead to long-term recovery.

Clinical Outpatient Therapist Larry Wills, LPC, M.Div., said the approach contrasts with many people’s expectations that 28 days in treatment can “fix” someone’s addiction problem.

Clinical Outpatient Therapist Larry Wills, LPC, M.Div.

Clinical Outpatient Therapist Larry Wills, LPC, M.Div.

“The reality is, people are here to learn a set of tools and skills, and to identify resources they’ll be able to use when they leave here,” Wills said. “The real work really comes when they get back into the everyday world.”

Wills, who worked with James during his outpatient programs, said people who are serious about recovery make choices to put their recovery first.

“That can even mean finding a new career — especially if the old career was highly stressful and part of the reason someone got in trouble with mood-altering chemicals in the first place,” he said. “Instead of rushing back to the same-old-same-old, you have to find new ways of doing things.”

For James, when the time came to leave Oxford Treatment Center’s residential campus at Etta, he took advantage of a longer-stay option through the center.

I knew this time I couldn’t just go back home right away. I had to do it right this time.

James’s time in treatment coincided with the opening of Oxford Treatment Center’s new Resolutions supportive housing campus in fall 2017.

Oxford Treatment Center’s Resolutions supportive housing campus opened in fall 2017. At Resolutions, patients live together in a supportive community with 24/7 supervision, while continuing to receive treatment at the PHP and IOP level of care.

The campus includes the Oxford Outpatient Center and four transitional homes adjacent to it. People in early recovery can move from the Etta campus directly to Resolutions. They live in an early-recovery community while continuing receiving treatment at Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) and IOP levels of care.

A further second phase of the Resolutions program gives people a chance to continue living in a supportive environment while regaining their independence — getting a job, driving their own vehicles. Weekly individual therapy sessions still provide ongoing support, as people put what they’ve learned about recovery into practice.

James was among the first people to participate in the second-phase program, and continued to meet with Wills each week.

“I credit Larry with having a huge part in my success,” James said. “Alcoholics have big egos; we each think we hung the moon. We have to control everything. It’s been a big learning curve for me, to see that I don’t have to be right about everything. Larry taught me to let things go.”

Today, James continues to work part-time because of the flexibility it offers, as he speaks to recovery groups and shares his story. He is looking into training programs to become a counselor.

For those still struggling with addiction, his advice is to give treatment a chance.

“If not Oxford Treatment Center, get help somewhere,” he said. “Take the program seriously, and do what the professionals tell you to do.”

“No one likes to be told what to do. I get it: The last thing I want is somebody telling me what to do. But the professionals understand the science behind what you’re going through. If you listen to them, they can help.”

 

Learn more: Oxford Treatment Center Resolution campus

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

Three views on forgiveness

Panelists Richard Balkin, Joy Minyard, and Barry Doughty at the Forgiveness: Finding Peace in Letting Go conference seriesIs forgiveness always about fixing a broken relationship? Or can it be something that just happens within yourself?

Forgiveness is a common theme at Oxford Treatment Center. Many people who abuse drugs and alcohol started using those substances to cope with pain and trauma they’ve experienced in life. But even when it doesn’t lead to addiction, holding onto anger can be a miserable burden. Does harboring resentment make you feel better? Or is it just holding you back?

Here are three perspectives from the panelists on Forgiveness: Finding Peace in Letting Go, part of Oxford Treatment Center’s 2018 Community Workshop Series.

 


Joy through the pain

Robin Minyard

Robin Minyard

In 2012, Robin Minyard was devastated by the loss of her 30-year-old son, Levi, to suicide. She and her family worked hard to face their grief and come to terms with his loss. Through counseling sessions alongside her husband, David, they drew closer as a couple than they’d ever been. Then, in April 2017, she was blindsided when her husband took his own life as well.

After David’s death, I found myself again having to face the loss of a loved one to suicide, yet it was even more painful the second time. All of a sudden, I was completely vulnerable to everything — every emotion, every fear that you could possibly experience. And one of the emotions I went through is an intense anger at being put in this position.

I’ve been through all of it. The feelings of wanting to lash out: “How could you possibly do this to us — again?” It really has been a journey. And I’m not speaking from a point of having arrived. But I’m getting there.

I have a very deep faith, and that has gotten me through all of this. I have truly seen the hand of God every step of the way, and I still see it. If I did not see that bigger picture, I could not be where I am. I have to have a perspective that allows me to rise above this.

For suicide survivors, one of the things that can be a hindrance to healing is the lingering guilt. “Why wasn’t I more compassionate to him if I saw him suffering — if I even saw it?” There’s this extra layer of pain that asks, “What was my part in this?” Then there’s a feeling of abandonment that survivors experience. It’s a hard thing to walk through all of that, and then to say, “It’s all good. I forgive you.”

At some point, you have to scream and holler, hoping that nobody’s around. I think dark humor also has its place in this whole idea of forgiveness.

You have to acknowledge the presence of this pain — the thing that keeps me from wanting to forgive.

Emotions require so much energy — especially anger. I’ve never felt comfortable with conflict, not even within myself. For me, the default response is, “All right, here comes a joke.” So I have to recognize that and say, “A joke is not appropriate here.”

I needed to acknowledge the fact that I was so angry and distraught over this event. I had to acknowledge it and embrace it and let it be what it was.

I’ve learned a lot from yoga, and from the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. He says that your anger is like a child; you need to embrace it, comfort it, instead of rejecting it and pushing it down.

So much of what we do is to suppress the feelings of anger, disappointment, rage, depression — all the things we try to stuff down and not feel. It’s easy to do that with substances.

But when you actually can start feeling the pain, it opens you up to feel everything else, too, which can be wonderful. I think I have a greater depth of joy in life today, and hopefully I can see the sufferings of others with more compassion. That’s one of the benefits of facing the anger. When you get to that place where you can forgive, it frees you up to live more fully, without that burden to carry.

 


Rethinking ‘I forgive you’

Richard Balkin

Richard Balkin

Richard Balkin, Ph.D., LPC, NCC, is a professor of counselor education at the University of Mississippi and editor of the Journal of Counseling and Development for the American Counseling Association. His published work in the area of forgiveness includes numerous research articles and presentations on the subject. In addition to the March 20 community event, he will present a continuing education seminar for mental health professionals the following day as part of Oxford Treatment Center’s 2018 Professional Development Series.

We typically think of forgiveness as something that’s an interpersonal exercise: You forgive someone with the goal of restoring that relationship. But often what we deal with in a counseling setting doesn’t fit into that narrow vision of forgiveness. Sometimes forgiveness needs to happen on an intrapersonal level — within oneself.

One example is when someone has been abused. You may be holding onto anger against someone who has hurt you badly in a physical or emotional way. Reconciling with this person may not be what you need to do — and if they’re still abusive, that could even be dangerous. Sometimes you need to get out of a dysfunctional relationship and there is no reconciliation. So what do you do with the anger and resentment you still harbor from this person?

The first thing we have to recognize is that anger and resentment are normal. The goal, through counseling, is to reach a point where you’re no longer traumatized by it.

Often, that looks like coming to a place where that person or event is no longer a focal point in your life. You’ve moved past it. You don’t think about this person, and you’re not wishing them ill will. You’re not spending negative energy focusing on them. You’re not hankered down by anger. You’re able to say, within yourself: “What I wanted from this person, I’m never going to get. But they don’t owe me anything. I’m OK with that, and I’m done.”

One barrier that people deal with can be their own beliefs and perceptions related to forgiveness. Think of some of those things we often say: “Turn the other cheek.” “To forgive is divine.” When you take that approach in the context of abuse, you might put yourself at risk for further abuse. We sometimes apply these cultural and religious tenants in ways that keep us from acting in our own best interest.

When you want to move past the pain someone else has caused in your life, that might mean restoring the relationship. But that can also mean simply finding forgiveness within yourself. There’s freedom in broadening what we mean when we talk about forgiveness.


 

The process of letting go

Barry Doughty

Barry Doughty

Barry Doughty, ICADC-I, has been a clinical therapist in the field of addiction treatment for more than 11 years. He has worked with individuals, groups and families, helping people overcome dependency on drugs and alcohol. He is also an instructor in the Mississippi Addiction Counselor Training program. He leads primary adult programs at Oxford Treatment Center’s residential campus in northeastern Lafayette County.

Many of the addicts we work with show up with a lot of resentment, anger, hatred, hostility. All of these things keep them trapped in the illusion that it’s somebody else’s fault, or someone owes me. “If you had been dealt my hand,” they’ll say.

Those are common excuses that addicts use to keep using drugs. It doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been trauma in that person’s life, or pain from their past that needs to be addressed. But you can’t hold onto that and live a productive life. The anger — it will continue to gnaw at your soul.

Even if you have been a victim of abuse, you can’t continue to live as a victim. You can’t stay in that mental space. It doesn’t mean that people are not victimized, because they are, every day. They may use drugs to cope with that pain. But not everyone who’s been a victim uses drugs. There are better ways to cope. That’s a big part of what we work on in treatment.

Learning to let go of the anger is a process. It’s not like you just snap your fingers and you’re there. Letting it go is like an exercise you may have to do again and again.

When people do come to a place of forgiveness, you see them find a peace that they may have never felt before, or at least not in a long time. In treatment groups and in 12-step meetings, we have them share that experience with others — the whole experience, not just the good part in the end. We talk together about what it was like being in that place of anger, getting to the point where you want to let it go, and then reaching the other side in forgiveness. In recovery from addiction, we know how important it is to use our stories to encourage each other.

Personally, one thing I do if I find there’s anger built up inside of me is I pray for the other person. I pray for them, that they’ll receive in life all the good things and happiness I want for myself. And after time, if I continue that prayer, it becomes what I really do want for them.

Forgiveness is for me; it’s not for the other person. When I’m forgiving someone, I’m not doing it for them. I’m doing it so I can live and be at peace.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

A Long Surrender: David P.’s Story

Recovery Reflections from our 2017 Alumni Weekend Evening Speaker

David P. spent more than two decades in recovery circles before finally surrendering to the program. He will share his experience as the evening speaker at the 2017 Anniversary Weekend, set for May 6 on the Etta campus.

I went to my first meeting on Jan. 8, 1988. Today I have four years sober.

I was in and out of AA meetings over the last 25 years before I finally surrendered. It was after marrying the love of my life and having a beautiful boy that I was able to see the truth: That I would drink again and destroy my family before it had even really started. It wasn’t a matter of “if” that would happen; It was a matter of “when.”

I made a decision to go through the AA Big Book and work the 12 Steps. I had tried so many other methods to stay sober and live successfully. The message I want to share is this: All those other methods failed to produce the desired result.

Our Book tells 100 percent of the facts about my life, mind and spiritual condition. That is what I either failed to grasp (illusion) or was in complete denial about (dishonesty) — probably a good mix of both.

The truth is that I had no clue what it really meant to be alcoholic. I thought it was just about drinking or not drinking. I found out, through honestly looking at my experience with life, that I was alcoholic before I ever took my first drink.

I also found out that our 12 Steps — and the Power that we find as the result of working them — will solve much more than the drinking problem.

As the Book says in Bill’s Story: “I would have the elements of a way of life which answered all my problems.”

 

Hear David P. share his story as part of Oxford Treatment Center’s 2017 Anniversary Weekend, Saturday, May 6 on the Etta campus.

View the complete schedule and register

 

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

The Wilburs to perform at Anniversary Weekend

Those attending Oxford Treatment Center’s Anniversary Weekend this spring can look forward to entertainment by a musical trio that spreads good energy through song.

Amy Fisher, Luke Fisher and Kevin Guyer perform at The Wilburs.

The Wilburs will be performing during the evening on Saturday, May 6, as part of special events on the Etta campus. The group is led by Luke Fisher on guitar, with Amy Fisher on upright bass and Kevin Guyer on guitar.

In addition to some of Luke Fisher’s original music, they’ll be playing covers of favorites from artists like John Denver and Creedence Clearwater Revival.

“I like to play songs where people will look up and say, ‘Oh, I love that song!’ and sing along,” Luke said. “We’ll be doing a lot of songs that people know and love.”

A civil rights attorney, Luke recently retired from law practice to focus on his music career. His wife Amy, a social work professor at the University of Mississippi, said spreading good energy is always their goal when they take the stage.

“Music is our way of bringing a little light and healing to the world,” she said. “For an event like this, we have a chance to show how people in recovery can fully embrace life.

“We’re going to have fun and celebrate how far we’ve all come.”

Both the Fishers are in long-term personal recovery. Previously with the University Counseling Center, Amy founded the UM Collegiate Recovery Community and continues to support the CRC as a member of its advisory board.

For Luke, music has been essential to his recovery from alcoholism since the late 1980s.

“When you get sober, you have to find something to take the place of alcohol, and a big part of that for me is my music,” he said. “I don’t think I’d be alive today without it.”

In addition to performing as The Wilburs, each of the players pursues other musical projects. Amy performs as part of the Latin music band La Fusión, while Luke also plays solo and recently booked his first summer music festival appearance.

Guyer is a transplant to Mississippi from New Hampshire. In addition to solo work, he also plays with the McLeod/Guyer Band and runs Poultry in Motion Organic Farm, south of Oxford in Water Valley, Mississippi.

Oxford Treatment Center’s 2017 Anniversary Weekend is free for alumni, families and friends, with tour opportunities for professionals and community partners.

To view the schedule and register, visit oxfordtreatment.com/anniversary.

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

Willingness to follow treatment advice pays off

Now 18 months into recovery: ‘There’s hope for anybody’

When Joanna’s* grandmother was in the hospital recently, she drove 12 hours to be by her side. She spent the next several days in the hospital room. She was there to fetch a sip of water or adjust the pillows just so.

Most of all, she was simply there. Because the last time, she wasn’t.

“These are the living amends they talk about,” says Joanna, who had been in the depths of addiction the last time her grandmother was in the hospital.

“At that time, the mental obsession to use was stronger than any love I felt,” she said. “I could not sit in the hospital room without mentally checking out. I was planning how I was going to sneak out when she fell asleep and do what I needed to do — then slip back in before 5 a.m., so she’d think her “perfect” granddaughter was still sitting there beside her.”

Days later, Joanna reached the point where maintaining the lie became truly unbearable. She had been using for eight years. If the drugs or the lifestyle didn’t kill her, she was afraid that her depression would.

Joanna called a friend for help and got in touch with American Addiction Centers. She checked in to Oxford Treatment Center for a 30-day stay. A year and a half later, she’s remained in the area and is rebuilding her life as part of the local recovery community.

“It was the scariest thing I’d ever done, leaving my entire ‘life’ behind,” Joanna said. “Looking back, I didn’t have a life. I was a slave to everything I put in my body.

“Today, the drugs are no longer part of my life, and I haven’t lost anything by giving those up. I’ve gained a lot.”

Joanna had never been to treatment before. But she knew people who had.

“I’d heard good stories, bad stories and everything in between,” she said. “Even so, it was nothing like I expected it to be. In some ways, it was the most difficult 30 days of my life, and in some ways, it was the most cathartic. I finally felt allowed to stop trying to keep it all together.”

Hundreds of miles from home, separated from all she’d known before, Joanna expected that getting away for those 30 days ought to set her life straight.

“I thought I could go right back home, and go back to school or get a new job,” she said. “I was very fortunate to have therapists and peers who could look at me and say, ‘You’re living in a dream world. You’ve spent years living the way you were living. Thirty days isn’t going to be enough to change all of that.’”

What those 30 days did was enable Joanna to understand the challenge she faced through the disease of addiction, as well as introduce her to the tools, skills and habits she would need to build a strong recovery. She had to learn new ways of coping if drugs and alcohol were no longer an option.

“The biggest misconception I had was that if I gave up drugs, life would always be easy,” she said. “The truth is, dealing with life on life’s terms is really difficult at times. Right out the gate, there were some setbacks. I’ve dealt with death. I’ve dealt with car accidents. I’ve dealt with all the challenges of having to start your life over.

“Treatment was just part one; to have a strong recovery, I have to continue to put in work each and every day.”

Joanna followed her treatment team’s advice and continued through Oxford Treatment Center’s Sober Living and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). Living in supervised housing alongside others in early recovery was an opportunity to practice what she’d learned in residential treatment.

“It allowed me to look at everything underlying what had been going on. I learned to let other people teach me how to get through each day — without reaching for something that comes in a pill or a bottle,” she said.

Through IOP, Joanna continued taking part in group and individual treatment sessions at the Oxford Outpatient Office, while also attending NA and AA meetings in the local recovery community.

“We’d go to two meetings a day, three meetings a day,” she said. “It was uncomfortable, and sometimes it was inconvenient. But I did it anyway.”

Slowly Joanna became more comfortable at meetings. She even got used to the hugs.

“Around here, there’s lots of hugs,” she said. “It was hard for me to allow myself to feel love from people that I didn’t know. It was hard to believe that they had my best interest at heart. They didn’t want anything in return. They just wanted to help me not go back to the way I used to be.”

Today, Joanna counts some of those people among her closest friends.

“I met them in one of the darkest times of my life, and now I couldn’t imagine my life without the support they provide on a daily basis,” she said. “They’ve been there to hold me up when I couldn’t do it on my own, and they’ve been there to celebrate really beautiful times with me, too. It’s like an extended family.”

Living in her own home now, Joanna works as an executive assistant. She gets up early, drinks a lot of coffee and keeps life simple. The relationships in her life are mending, including those with family members back home. And slowly, she’s regaining her confidence in life — this time, without any substance to prop it up.

She sees from a new perspective now what the therapists at Oxford Treatment Center told her.

“If I would learn how to be vulnerable, and if I would remain willing and teachable, they promised me I’d find a new way to live,” Joanna said.

“It’s proven to be true. Before, I felt like recovery was something that may work for other people, but it wouldn’t work for me. So far, it has. I’m overwhelmingly grateful today… and I believe there’s hope for anybody.”

*Name has been changed.

 

Learn more — Addiction & Recovery Expectations: Q&A with Clinical Therapist Amy Winn, CADC

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

‘Telling Oxford: Our Path to Recovery’

telling-oxford-band-23b

Luke Fisher & Friends entertain during Telling Oxford: Our Path to Recovery

 

Fundraiser for college students in recovery brings awareness

 

By the time she began studying at a local community college, Carol M. had a hard time figuring out which degree to pursue. Her future was only just coming into focus, beyond the darkness of active addiction.

“I’ve changed my mind so many times,” the 23-year-old told a quiet audience of more than 100 people. “Because I really didn’t expect to live this long.”

telling-oxford-angela-quadrani-web

Angela Quadrani shares her story as part of Telling Oxford

Speaking at a fundraiser to support college students in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, Carol said she’d found hope by coming to Oxford Treatment Center and by staying to join the local recovery community. She completed treatment in 2014, and has gone on to resume her studies while earning a job as a manager.

“My life today is so different and so full of hope,” she said. “I’ve surrounded myself with women who are honest with me, even when it hurts.

 

We have something so special here in Oxford — a community of people who truly care about your well-being.

 

That community was on display in a new way at the Nov. 2 event, “Telling Oxford: Our Path to Recovery.”

A fundraiser for the University of Mississippi Collegiate Recovery Community, the event featured six people sharing their stories on stage at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center. Josh Campbell, a professional storyteller with Spillit Memphis, worked with the group in advance to identify themes and hone each person’s story. The ticketed event included a seated tapas-style meal by My Michelle’s and entertainment by Luke Fisher & Friends.

“It’s great to look out over this room and see the commitment you all have to recovery and to this recovery community,” said Billy Young, co-founder and CEO of Oxford Treatment Center. “Oxford has the opportunity to continue to grow as a safe haven for people recovering from the disease of addiction.”

telling-oxford-scene-web

Though it may be better known for its college party scene than for a lifestyle of service and abstinence, this small town is quickly becoming a hub for recovery. The past five years have seen the parallel growth of the UM Collegiate Recovery Community and of Oxford Treatment Center, whose residential center is 16 miles from the UM campus.

Today, in the town of 20,000 people, there are 35 or more 12-step groups meeting each week. Events like “Telling Oxford” help spread the message of recovery to a broader audience, while still honoring the 12-step tradition of anonymity.

“I’m excited to see events like this become more common,” said Susan C., who sought out the local recovery community when she moved to Oxford from Los Angeles more than a decade ago. “Instead of recovery being so hush-hush,” she said, “we’re recognizing the need for awareness and fundraising.”

David Magee speaks during Telling Oxford

David Magee speaks during Telling Oxford

David Magee, publisher of The Oxford Eagle newspaper, said a don’t-talk-about-it approach once enabled another leading killer — breast cancer. Yet over the past 25 years, greater awareness helped more people get screenings and raised more money for research. The death rate for breast cancer has since dropped by more than one-third.

“Drugs are the number-one killer of our young people,” said Magee, whose August column about the loss of his son to drug overdose was widely read and shared.

“The reason I wrote about my son, and the reason why people tell their stories, is that we have to take the stigma away,” he said.

 

“Imagine where we might be years from now if we keep getting the word out.”

 

Listen and share new stories of recovery each Monday, from American Addiction Centers’ national podcast series “Far From Finished.”

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

From Prison to Recovery

NA outreach behind bars opened new possibilities

For Jacques Wuichet, the date April 21, 1996, marked a turning point in life. It was his first day of incarceration. And it was the day he got clean. One wouldn’t have happened without the other.

 

jacques-wuichet-377

“The day before, I smoked all the pot I had, because I knew the cops were coming,” Wuichet said. “Any other time, I would have taken off and run the way I always did. But I was so tired of living that way.”

Twenty years later, Wuichet now works in addiction treatment, as a weekend counselor at Oxford Treatment Center’s residential campus. While colleague J.J. Potts works most with young adults, Wuichet spends more time with older adults in the treatment program.

“I believe in helping others,” he said. “I see the value in what I can give: I’ve come from that deep, dark place — from the abyss — into the light of recovery that God gave me.

“God makes a way for me to give back what was freely given to me.”

 

Wuichet traces his personal history with drugs and alcohol as far back as childhood, when early habits like lying and sneaking around steered his path toward trouble.

“Smoking cigarettes and stealing things — it just became a way of life,” he said. “It wasn’t hard to move into using drugs. Whenever somebody offered me something, I’d take it.”

Right out of high school, Wuichet earned his first felony, for breaking into a drugstore. He soon began selling pot for his dealer so he could smoke for free.

“Back then, it was $10 a bag,” he said. “I’d go out to a little pool hall by the community store, take a little bit out and sell the rest. I didn’t really intend to become a dope man. But if you show up every Friday with a sack full of dope, you become the dope man.”

Over the course of two decades, Wuichet distributed ever-larger quantities of marijuana and grew deeper into his own addiction. Marijuana was his drug of choice, but he also took everything from opiates to methamphetamines when he could find them.

His circle of friends grew smaller.

“You can’t trust people when you’re a criminal,” he said. “I didn’t know anybody who got clean. I think some folks got religion — we called them ‘Jesus freaks’ back in the ‘70s — and we didn’t see them anymore.”

 

“When I was using, I wanted the best drug connection. In NA, I applied the same drive to a passion for life in recovery…”

 

Ultimately, reaching rock bottom became Wuichet’s opportunity to turn his life around. He was charged in two different states with transporting and distributing drugs, and began a five-year prison sentence in Texas. There, he connected with a branch of Narcotics Anonymous that brings the 12-step message to people in hospitals and institutions.

“They would do a book study with us and bring in speakers,” he said. “I got introduced to the idea of people staying clean and coming back in to share the message.”

During his imprisonment, Wuichet began to correspond with members of a Narcotics Anonymous group in Tupelo. Two members began writing to him every week, sharing about how their lives had changed in recovery.

Wuichet soon found he could take the same drive that had fueled his addiction and apply it instead to his recovery.

“When I was using, I wanted the best drug connection — and then I wanted his connection so I could get it cheaper,” he said.

“I used that same approach when I went to NA meetings. I’d look for the best connections, and I’d find the good people working their program and living a life I would want to have. I’m using the same drive. But instead of it coming from desperation and active addiction, now it’s a passion for this life I’ve acquired by staying clean and working a program.”

Those NA connections helped Wuichet transition after prison into a new way of life. He spent a career working for a tire company and went back to school at a local community college. He also began taking classes through the Mississippi Association of Addiction Professionals (MAAP) to become a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor.

 

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Wuichet joined Oxford Treatment Center in 2012 as a behavioral health technician (BHT) at the residential campus. After two years, he transitioned to the Tupelo Outpatient Office and gained more clinical experience.

He returned to the residential center in 2015 as a weekend counselor. His role today includes spending time with patients and with their families during Sunday afternoon visitation. In leading groups, Wuichet shares his own experience alongside NA literature.

“Once we get the drugs out of the way, we can start working on ourselves and become who God intended us to be,” he said. “The process starts here, and our goal is to get them connected into a 12-step program or whatever works for them as a recovery system.”

The past two decades have given Wuichet a long view of how recovery unfolds over time. It’s not necessarily what people in treatment want to hear, and he knows that.

“When I was in active addiction, I started out wanting magic to happen, just to get me out of this situation,” he said. “Once I got to NA, I started to get some hope. And that’s what the program offers. I started working the steps, and found a God of my own understanding, and I started to have faith.

“From wish to hope to faith to trust — I can look back now and see how it progressed. If you’re sitting here trying to figure all it out, you’ll be doing that the rest of your life. It’s just through the experience of living life that you gain understanding.

“It could be 10 steps or a thousand miles away — everyone’s journey is different. But you just have to keep moving forward, because somewhere up ahead, that trust and understanding is waiting for you.”

 

“The most important thing that non-addicts can do is to get educated about addiction.”

 

While his time in prison proved to be the turning point in his life, Wuichet hopes that reforms to the judicial and prison systems can make them a more effective intervention for people in addiction.

He recalls a judicial candidate once handing him a campaign card during a National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence (NCADD) meeting in Tupelo.

“I’m a three-time convicted felon, so I can’t vote for you,” Wuichet replied. “But I’ve been on the other side of your bench. I’ve seen that all people get in prison is an education on how to become a better criminal. What are you going to do to change your system?”

In recent years, Wuichet has been encouraged by the growth of drug court programs, which use the threat of prison time as leverage to get nonviolent offenders into treatment for addiction. It also gave him hope to see officers from the Mississippi Department of Corrections attend MAAP classes with him to learn more about addiction.

“The most important thing that non-addicts can do is to get educated about addiction,” he said. “Almost everyone today has had addiction affect them, either personally or in a friend or family member. People have an idea of what addicts look like — but it could just as easily be your grandma who’s been abusing her pain meds for years, as it is the guy laying in the gutter with a spike in his arm.

“Addiction does not discriminate, and it doesn’t care where you come from. It’s only by looking past the stigma and getting educated about addiction that we can help people reclaim their lives through recovery.”

Read moreLegal Leverage Motivates Change

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

‘I’ve Finally Found My Place in Life’

Working with young adults a meaningful connection

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Here’s the challenge: Call your family from treatment, and have a conversation without asking for anything.

“When you’re in addiction, all your phone calls are about what you can get from someone else,” said J.J. Potts, a weekend counselor at Oxford Treatment Center.

“Our patients can be so manipulative towards their families — and their families buy into what they’re selling,” he said. “So I encourage them to call home and say, ‘I just want to tell you I love you.’”

A young man reported to Potts recently that when he did that, his mom began to cry on the phone. She said, “This is the first time you’ve ever called home without wanting something or needing to be bailed out of jail.”

“It’s exciting for me to see those relationships begin to change and heal,” Potts said.

Potts plays a first-hand role in that process, spending time with patients and their families during Sunday afternoon visitation. He also helps them process their experience from the Intensive Family Therapy Program. The family program, which takes place on the last Saturday of treatment, includes a powerful time of therapist-led sharing among patients and their loved ones.

“I ask them, ‘When is the last time you’ve seen your mom or dad look this good?’” Potts said. “I have them visualize what their addiction did to their family — to remember their tired eyes and wrinkles, the physical stress they caused them. Recovery demands we take responsibility for what we’ve done to others, and learn to think about someone other than ourselves.”

 

“This is my way of repairing my past — trying to help someone who’s where I was 20 years ago.”

Potts got clean for his children. He is a father of seven. He decided they deserved better than a dad who used drugs, went to prison, and kept on using.

He went to treatment, and had his moment of clarity about two weeks in.

“I realized at that time I had to do something different from what I had been doing,” he said. “I could have continued down that road of pain and misery, or I could change. Fortunately, I was able to make a clear decision for the first time in 35 years.”

Potts spent 42 days in primary treatment, followed by four months of secondary treatment sober living. He credits the latter with giving him a strong start in recovery.

As he rebuilt his life, Potts went back to school for a degree in architectural engineering. It was a natural step, having worked in construction all his life. But his work at Oxford Treatment Center has since eclipsed that goal.

“In the beginning, this job was just to get me through school,” he said. “But something happened over the last four years. I don’t plan on going anywhere. I feel like I’ve finally found my place in life for the first time in 41 years.

“For so many years, I destroyed everything I came in contact with. I guess this is my way of repairing my past — trying to help someone who’s where I was 20 years ago.”

 

“It’s amazing to see them come to life over the course of their stay.”

Potts’ initial role at Oxford Treatment Center was as a clinical assistant. He was promoted to a therapeutic specialist, working with groups and individuals. Today, he focuses chiefly on working with young adults as a weekend counselor.

“I’m drawn to the young adults, and they seem to relate to me because of my past,” he said. “They trust me, and I don’t pull punches with them. That’s what a lot of them need ­— somebody who’s honest with them that cares about them.”

In the group sessions he leads, Potts focuses on spiritual aspects of recovery. He also emphasizes the choice each patient has to make.

“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” he said. “Do you want to be labeled as a drug addict who doesn’t care about life? Or do you want something different? They have a choice, and they don’t realize how fortunate they are. When I was growing up, there were 12-step programs, but it was real quiet. Addiction was a hush-hush deal. Now, everybody in the world knows about addiction. They have opportunities for recovery that didn’t exist back then.”

As someone who spent his youth in addiction, and now as a father of young adults, Potts finds it easy to relate to what patients are going through. His colleagues credit his skill at building a rapport with even those who are most resistant.

“When I was their age, if somebody would have told me, ‘You’ll never be able to drink or smoke another joint again,’ I wouldn’t have known what life was going to be like,” he said. “Yet it’s amazing to see them come to life over the course of their weeks with us. You see them arrive beat down, and then grow daily and get more interested, then ultimately become leaders in their group.

“Because with everything we can give them, it’s still up to them to do the work. They’re the ones who’ll mend the relationships with their families. They’re the ones who’ll have the A-ha moments. They’re the ones who have to own that hope: Things can be better this time.”

 

Read moreAbout our Young Adult Program

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

In Recovery, Recovering Self Worth

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Time to focus on self brings healing

There are many things Ashley* loves about herself — her empathetic heart, her strong work ethic, her deep sense of gratitude. But three years ago, she saw herself very differently.

“Before I got clean, I hated myself and wanted to die,” says the 25-year-old. “I had abandoned my daughter. I was stealing from people. I was selling myself.

“I didn’t know anything about myself, really. But through working the steps, I’ve learned that the mistakes I made in my addiction don’t define who I am. I’m worth so much more.”

For Ashley, the hard work of recovery began in earnest at Oxford Treatment Center. It was the fifth place she had been for treatment. What made a difference was Oxford Treatment Center’s approach in transitioning her into early recovery — and her own willingness to follow the recommended course.

She spent 60 days in Oxford Treatment Center’s Sober Living and Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) after residential treatment.

“One of the reasons I’m still clean is that I gave myself time to work on myself,” she says. “Going to a sober living program had been recommended to me before, but I wasn’t willing.”

 

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“I had never experienced nature the way I did there.”

 

Ashley was sent to Oxford Treatment Center through a nonprofit foundation that supports people seeking recovery from addiction.

“I felt really lucky to be in a place that was so pretty,” she said. “I remember sitting outside my cabin and just looking around. Being quiet. I had never experienced nature the way I did there.”

Ashley also found Oxford Treatment Center’s program of meetings and activities to be more structured than what she had experienced at other centers.

“I didn’t like that at the time,” she admits. “But I’m glad it was that way. We got more out of each day.”

During residential treatment, she took part in group trips to AA/NA meetings in nearby towns. Such experiences made it easier for her to begin taking responsibility for her own recovery program.

After Sober Living and IOP, Ashley chose to stay close to her recovery community and rented an apartment in Oxford.
“The prospect of getting out of Sober Living and finding a job and a place to live — it was scary,” she said. “But when I did get out, I didn’t feel alone at all. I had started making friends in the fellowship, and I had tons of people that helped me.”

During Sober Living, she also gained an NA sponsor, whom she looked up to as having 10 years in recovery.

“I allowed myself to trust her, and she introduced me to tons of women who were also in recovery,” she said. “Making new friendships with other women was uncomfortable for me at first. But I knew I didn’t want to be alone. That’s the worst place for me to be.”

 

“I let people take advantage of me because I wanted them to love me. I don’t have to do that anymore.”

Ashley was 18 months clean when she decided it was time to move back to her hometown. She has since regained access to spend time with her daughter, who was 3 years old the first time Ashley went to treatment.

“I don’t have custody,” she said. “But I get to see her now, which is good.”

ashley-story-1Among the challenges of moving home has been leaving the recovery community she’d become part of and finding her place in a new one.

“I had to make those friendships in the rooms all over again,” she said. “I thought it was going to be so different, but I’ve learned it’s almost like seeing the same people with different names. It’s just a bunch of addicts helping each other.”

Before she came to Oxford Treatment Center, Ashley had lost her home, her job, her car, and her family’s support. Her addiction had taken her to through jails and psychiatric hospitals, and had driven her to prostitution.

Ultimately, though, none of those consequences was reason enough to get clean.

“I got clean because I was just so empty and miserable — and I had finally learned that no amount of drugs or money was going to change that,” she said.

In recovery, Ashley has been able to identify the patterns in her life that needed to change. It felt selfish, at first, to take time and focus on herself. Yet she sees now how essential the process has been.

“I had so little value to myself that I thought I had to make up for that in other ways,” she said. “I let people take advantage of me and wouldn’t stand up for myself, because I wanted people to love me. I don’t have to do that anymore.”

*Name has been changed; model portrayal

 

Read more“Young Women & Addiction,” Q&A with Molly Barbieri, LMSW, ICADCI

About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More

Listen Again to Reifers’ Most Requested Talks

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At the request of our alumni, families, staff and administration, Oxford Treatment Center shares three key presentations by our most respected addiction educator.

Garry Reifers, founding program director of Oxford Treatment Center, distilled his teaching for a three-part workshop in January in Olive Branch, Miss. Videographers provided by Oxford Treatment Center’s parent company, American Addiction Centers, were on hand to capture the presentations.

Those attending the workshop included mental health professionals as well as Oxford Center alumni and family members from the greater Memphis, Tenn. area. One mother drove 50 miles from her home north of Memphis to attend.

“I was in a state of shock the first time I heard Garry speak,” she said, recalling the Intensive Family Therapy Program session she attended for her daughter in 2013. “He had a very positive influence on my daughter. Having the chance to hear him again was very helpful.”

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Part 1: “The Hijacking of the Brain”

Reifers connects his clinical observations to current theories on the brain science of addiction. Addiction is believed to trigger a conflict between two parts of the brain: The prefrontal cortex, where choices are made based on values and priorities, and the midbrain, which is hardwired for survival. Through a process that is not yet understood by science, addiction causes the midbrain to associate one’s drug of choice with survival. (84 min.)

 

 

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Part 2: “The Power of Denial”

While those in addiction will lie freely, there is a different reason why they seem to believe many of the preposterous things they say. Denial provides as a delusional perception of reality for those in addiction. It is an automatic, unconscious response to the conflict between what one believes is the right thing to do and what one actually does. Reifers explains the process of denial and how therapists can begin to overcome it through addiction treatment. (84 min.)

 

 

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Part 3: “Recovering Reality”

Adapting the Feeling Chart developed by interventionist Vernon Johnson, Reifers reveals emotional predisposition as one aspect of why some people are prone to addiction while others are not. He explains how the process of working a 12-step program can overcome the cycle of addiction and relapse — slowly, gradually — by moving someone up the scale toward happiness and even peace. (75 min.)

 

 

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About Garry Reifers

Focused today on training and education, Garry developed the clinical content of Oxford Treatment Center’s residential program and provided supervision for all counselors and therapists.

A 30-year veteran of the substance abuse treatment field, Garry served as Program Director for The Haven House in Oxford from 2000-12. There, he worked to transform the size and scope of the program and was instrumental in creating the first medically assisted detoxification program for a Mississippi Department of Mental Health substance abuse treatment program.

Read moreGarry Reifers Caps Respected Career (Jan. 2015)

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About The Contributor
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More